Authors: R.L. Stine
R. L. STINE
Ballantine Books • New York
For Matt Stine,
my twenty-something adviser and new reader
e stepped into the shade of the pine trees. My sandals slid over the thick blanket of needles on the ground. The air always grows colder as we pass the guest house.
I glanced at the dark windows, caked with too much dust to reflect the light. The sour odor of the mold-crusted shingles made me hold my breath.
What an ugly place. I tried not to think about the stories I’d heard about the guest house. I knew they couldn’t be true.
Why don’t Chip and Abby just tear it down? Why let it stand here, rotting?
Beyond the guest house stood a rolling, grassy sand dune. Beyond the dune—the glorious ocean beach.
“Thirsty,” Heather said. “Thirsty.” She rode on my shoulders, legs wrapped around my neck. Her hands tugged my hair.
“Heather, sweetie, please let go of my ponytail,” I said softly.
“Sweetie, wait till we get to the beach. We’re almost there. We always have our juice boxes at the beach—remember?”
Two-year-olds know a lot of words. But none of them is
She suddenly changed her tune. “Play? Play in the little house?”
“No, we don’t want to play in that dirty old house,” I said. “We want to go to the beach, right?”
Brandon’s hand slid out of mine. He moved behind me and grabbed the bag of beach toys with both hands. I staggered back as he began to tug it.
“Brandon—what are you doing? Stop! You’re going to pull me over.”
He ignored me and pulled again, harder. “Brandon, please stop, honey. You’re going to pull my head off! The bag is wrapped around my neck!”
I dropped the umbrella and blanket. Reached up both hands, grabbed Heather by the waist, and lowered her to the ground.
“Pick me up! Pick me up!”
I ignored her and turned to Brandon. “What are you doing? What do you want?” I dipped my shoulder and allowed him to pull the bag off my neck. “There you go. Now what?”
He dropped to the ground and bent over it, struggling with both hands to pull it open.
“Brandon, honey, don’t you want to go to the beach? We want to have fun at the beach, don’t we?”
His dark eyes narrowed in concentration. He has a narrow, intense face, and his big, round eyes and tensed lips always make him look worried or afraid.
He worked at the bag until he managed to rip it open. He held it upside down and shook it hard, sending the plastic shovels and buckets and cups and sand molds spilling onto the ground.
“Brandon, this is
not helpful,” I said. I made a grab for the mesh bag, now empty, but Brandon tossed it onto a clump of tall grass.
He grabbed a shovel, the biggest one, and took off, running awkwardly in his blue flip-flops, back toward the guest house. His baggy swimsuit, black with a yellow Nike swoosh on one leg, had slid down on his slim frame and threatened to fall off as he ran.
“Brandon, honey—stay away from there!” What on earth was he thinking?
Raising both arms to me, Heather let out a wail. “
I let out a frustrated sigh and ran after Brandon. He dropped onto his knees in a clump of weeds and began digging furiously in a patch of soft, sandy ground.
“Uh, Brandon? Hel-lo?”
The curly, dark hair bounced on his head as he worked. His breath escaped in shallow wheezes, almost groans.
The sand flew. He didn’t raise his eyes.
“Brandon, Heather and I want to go to the beach.” I bent down and tried to take the plastic shovel from him. But he jerked it away and spun his back to me. He lowered the plastic shovel, both hands wrapped around the handle now, and then tossed up a shower of sand.
I crossed my arms and stood beside him, watching him work. Sweat rolled down his pale forehead. He was breathing through his open mouth—“Unh . . . unh . . . unh . . .”—grunting with each shovel stroke.
And then a soft
. The edge of the plastic shovel hit something. And Brandon jumped, eyes suddenly wide, and jabbed the shovel in again. Another
, louder this time.
“What is it? What’s down there? Buried treasure?” I asked, leaning over the shallow hole. “Maybe you’ve found a pirate’s chest filled with gold! Wouldn’t that be cool?”
Brandon ignored me.
He lowered the shovel with both hands, scraping sand away, shoving it furiously from the hole. “Unh . . . unh . . .” Sand flew over the weeds, over my sandals.
“Unh . . . Unh . . . unh . . .”
And then I saw something curl up from the hole, as if reaching from beneath the ground. Something slender and white and curved and . . .
The cloud pulled away from the sun. Bright white light flooded over us. So bright, I squinted behind my sunglasses and stared at what Brandon had unearthed. So white and bleached out in the sunlight, like an overexposed snapshot.
But still clear. Still chillingly clear.
I couldn’t help it. I had to scream. So many horrors . . . Since I arrived here, I’d faced so many horrors. And now this . . .
My chest started to heave. I couldn’t breathe.
But, whoa. No way I could let go. Not with Brandon and Heather there.
I had to be the grown-up. I had to protect them somehow. So I swallowed hard, swallowed my cry. Swallowed again, my throat dry as sand.
I dropped to my knees. I slid an arm around Brandon’s slender waist and gazed down.
A rib cage, poking up from the yellow sand, glowing in the white light, shimmering and unreal. Bones buried in such a shallow grave behind the guest house.
I felt Brandon tremble. Jumping to my feet, I hoisted him up and spun him away. But he twisted his body, kept his eyes down, kept his eyes on the curled, white bones.
Still silent. Still breathing so fast, I could feel his hummingbird heartbeats.
Who is buried here? How did he know about it?
Are the stories about the guest house true?
Still holding him, I lowered my face to Brandon’s ear. “Brandon, honey, are you okay?” I whispered.
He didn’t answer.
And behind me, sounding so far away, miles and miles away, I heard Heather’s chant: “Mommy’s bones! Mommy’s bones!”
Two Months Earlier,
New York City
hat are you drinking?” I shouted.
My friend Teresa stared back at me. We had moved to the bar in the corner of the club, but it wasn’t much quieter over here.
“What are you drinking?”
She squinted at me. “Huh?”
“What . . . are . . . you . . . drinking?”
I screamed over the music.
“Oh.” Teresa held up her glass. The ice cubes jangled in a dark liquid, darker and thicker than Coke. “It’s Red Bull and Jägermeister. Here. Try it, El.”
She shoved the glass into my hand. I took a sip, swallowed, and felt my face shrivel up. “It’s disgusting. That’s the worst thing I ever tasted.”
She smiled. “I know.” She took back the glass and raised it, toasting me.
The place was called Beach Club, even though it was nowhere near a beach. We were on Second Avenue on the East Side of Manhattan. It was our favorite club, our subterranean hideaway where we escaped nearly every weekend.
My name is Ellie Saks, and I’m twenty-four years old. Why do I need a subterranean hideaway? Don’t ask.
A long metal stairway, dark and kind of creaky, like a subway entrance, led down to the club. And when we got to the bottom, our heels clicking on the rickety metal steps, we found ourselves in this amazing place, all silver and chrome and lights and mirrors.
Rows of silver tables and booths stretched along both walls, with the dance floor between them. Couples jammed the wide dance floor. Red and white lights pulsed in time to the throbbing dance music.
An enormous ceiling mirror reflected the dancers and the lights. Following Teresa to the curving chrome bar in the back, I had stared up at the upside-down dancers and thought it might be fun to be up there with them, graceful and oblivious, safe from the chaos below.
The bar was full, but two tall, long-haired girls in embroidered red halter tops and short shorts stood up just as we arrived, and we grabbed their high-backed stools. I ordered my usual glass of chardonnay. Then I made the mistake of tasting Teresa’s drink.
I kept swallowing, trying to get rid of the taste. “It tastes like . . . bubble gum and Robitussin.”
Teresa tilted the glass to her mouth and took a long drink. “Hey, you got it. Cough medicine. Yeah.” She laughed.
She has a high, hoarse laugh, sort of like a little boy’s. She doesn’t look like a little boy, though. She’s tall and a little plump, with sexy big green eyes, and piles of long, coppery curls streaked with blond, hair that she’s always playing with, tossing from side to side.
“Everyone’s drinking it. Know who introduced me to it? Ellie, remember Paulo? The guy in the mail room?”
I set my glass of chardonnay down on the bar. “You went out with Paulo?”
Teresa nodded, grinning.
“Does he speak English?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. The bar he took me to was as noisy as this one. I couldn’t really hear a word he said. Then we went back to his place. On Avenue A, I think. But he didn’t talk much.”
I shook my head. “Teresa, why did you go out with him?”
She coiled and uncoiled a thick lock of hair. “I wanted to see the
of his tattoos.”
We both laughed.
I turned the stem of the wineglass between my fingers. “And? Go on. Tell.
you see them?”
She nodded. “Yes. But it didn’t work out. When I read one that he had down there—you know,
—I had to leave.”
“Excuse me? What did it say?”
I shouldn’t have taken a drink. White wine went spewing out my nose. I was sputtering and choking and laughing, all at the same time.
The guy next to me turned around. “Are you okay?”
My eyes had teared up, but I could still see that this guy was drop-dead gorgeous. Sort of a young Brad Pitt, with a curl of streaky brown hair falling casually over his forehead and a stubble of beard over his boyish cheeks.
“I’ll probably survive,” I said, wiping my nose with my hand. I reached for a cocktail napkin on the bar and knocked the wineglass over.
But he caught it before it spilled.
“Wow. Good hands,” I said.
His blue eyes flashed. “I’d better have. I’m going to be a surgeon in another two years.” He slid the wineglass back to me.
Teresa and I had been hanging out at this club for months. And yet, somehow this was the first time a movie-star surgeon-to-be had said hello to me. Maybe things were looking up.
He leaned closer, bringing his face close to mine, so close I got a strong whiff of his Gio cologne. He breathed into my ear, “Maybe I could operate on
I knew Teresa was watching this whole exchange intently. I could feel her breath on the back of my neck.
I slid away from the Love Doctor. “Could I offer you some advice?”
His eyes narrowed. “Advice? You mean, don’t ever say that line again?”
We both laughed. He clinked his Heineken bottle against my wineglass. “One-to-nothing, you,” he said. He didn’t take his blue eyes from mine. He didn’t even blink. “You’re kinda pretty.”
I smiled. “So are you.”
He didn’t react to that at all. I guess he hears it a lot.
“You’ll have to cut me some slack tonight,” he said. “I spent the whole day with cadavers.”
I took a sip of chardonnay. “Is that your second-best pickup line?”
I know. I should have been nicer to him. I could feel Teresa’s disapproval, feel her eyes burning through the back of my blouse. She’d been trying her best to find me a new boyfriend, and here I was, letting her down.
I took a sip of wine and decided to show some interest. “Which med school do you go to?” I asked.
He emptied his beer bottle, set it down, and then grinned at me. Perfect teeth, of course. “I’m taking a home-study course.”
I laughed. “You’re getting funnier.”
“Actually, NYU,” he said. He signaled the bartender for another Heineken and ordered another glass of wine for me. He stuck out his hand for me to shake. “I’m Bernie.”
face? How can he be a
“Ellie,” I said. His hand was cold from the beer bottle.
I took a long sip of wine. Someone bumped me from behind. I heard Teresa groan. A hand grabbed my shoulder. “Ellie, hey. Here you are.”
I let go of Bernie’s hand and spun around. And stared into a familiar face, its red cheeks glistening with sweat, eyes cloudy, furry eyebrows moving up and down rapidly, as if alive.
“Clay? What are
“Looking for you, naturally.”
Teresa stuck her face between us. “I don’t think she wants to see you.”
Clay blinked several times, as if clearing his head. He frowned at Teresa. “Who are you?”
He swayed a little, still holding on to my shoulder.
Clay’s friends call him Bear because—well, he looks like a bear. He’s stocky and broad-chested, with muscular arms and legs, covered with dark brown hair. He has a round, boyish face, with red cheeks you want to pinch. Wiry brown hair on his head, cut short like fur, and round gray eyes under thick brown eyebrows.
I used to think of him as a cute teddy bear, but I don’t now. After I told him I didn’t want to go out with him anymore, Clay stopped being cute.
He started calling me night and day, following me, showing up at my apartment in the middle of the night, totally wasted and strung out, sending flowers and gifts, flooding me with e-mails, begging, pleading.
It took me a long while to realize he was stalking me. I mean, it’s not exactly something that happens to you all the time.
And then when I finally figured it out, I didn’t know how to deal with him. You see, I never meant for it to get serious.
Clay was one of the first guys I met when I moved to New York. He took me out to restaurants and to Knicks games at the Garden, jazz clubs in the Village. It was great to be living in New York City and have someone to be with on weekends.
He was an intense kind of guy. But I never stopped to realize how serious he was becoming. And then when I knew I had to get out of it, I tried to explain it all to him. I tried to be nice. I didn’t want to hurt him.
I just wanted him to be gone.
And now he had his arms around me, and I tumbled off the bar stool. He was holding on to me, grinning, his eyes glassy, unfocused. “Just one dance, Ellie.”
“Clay, you’re totally wasted, aren’t you,” I said, struggling to loosen his hold.
“Maybe. I guess I’m a little fucked up. Hey, I have some little pills we could share.”
He pulled me with both hands. He was very strong. His shirt was open. I could see sweat glistening on his carpet of chest hair. “Maybe we could talk. You know. Just . . . talk.”
“On the dance floor? Clay, I can’t hear a thing.”
We stumbled into other dancers. His face grew even redder under the pulsing lights, like a bomb about to explode.
The music repeated:
Y’all ready for this?
Y’all ready for this?
No, I’m not ready for this. I didn’t want to dance with Clay. I didn’t want him to pull me away, his eyes so crazy, his whole body so desperate, sweating like that.
I gazed up at the dancers in the ceiling mirror. I wanted to be up there with them.
“Maybe we could talk, Ellie.”
“Just fucking talk.”
I turned back to the bar and saw that Teresa had slid onto my stool. She had her hand on Bernie’s, she was tossing her hair back and forth, and they were talking and laughing together.
Good luck, Teresa. Why should tonight be a total waste for
“Stop pulling me, Clay. I don’t want to dance.”
I don’t think he heard me over the throbbing music. He pressed his hot face against my cheek. “I’ve got some X, Ellie. Do you want it? Let’s take it, huh? I’ve got Ecstasy. We could take it together and have a good talk.”
“Clay, you know I’m not into that,” I said sharply. “You know I don’t do that stuff. Why are you always trying—?”
In the middle of the dance floor, but we weren’t dancing, and Teresa seemed a million miles away. Poor Clay. He’s not a bad guy, really. He could be someone’s teddy bear. He could. But why does he care so much about me? We saw each other for less than a year, and it wasn’t even an exclusive thing. So why does he care so much?
I feel sorry for him now. Is that why I let him pull me out of the club? Or is it the wine? Did I have three glasses or four?
Up the stairs and out onto Second Avenue and into a taxi. He’s squeezing my hand so tight, like he’s never going to let go.
“We said good-bye, remember?”
Doesn’t he hear a word I say?
“We’ll have a good talk, Ellie. We were always so open and honest with each other.”
He’s so sad. I’ve made him so sad.
And now we’re walking up the steps to the brownstone where he lives, bumping each other, leaning on each other. “Just one last time,” he’s whispering.
And we’re in his stuffy, cluttered one-bedroom apartment on the second floor. I’m staring at the travel posters on the wall, British Rail posters, trains arriving at cold-looking, stony beach towns. Why does he like these posters?
I let him pull me to his bedroom. Yes, I let him. My head still throbs from the club music. The floor tilts as he leads me.
Y’all ready for this?
Y’all ready for this?
He’s undressing me. “Clay—please . . .”
He’s undressing me so feverishly with those clumsy bear paws.
I’m letting him. Yes, I know. I should fight or scream or something. But I’m letting him.
My glittery top. My short black skirt. He’s pawing at my skirt, tugging it down as he leans over me, pushing me onto the unmade bed.
“One last time,” he whispers, his breath so hot and wet in my ear. His dark eyes spinning. “Ellie, please . . . one last time.”
No. This is wrong, Clay. No. Stop.
Did I say the words? Or did I only think them?
His hand between my legs. Then he pulls down my black underpants. “One last time.”
I’m only thinking the words.
I’m letting him . . . letting him. My underpants are around my ankles. And he’s on top of me now. And now he’s in me. Now . . . now . . . now . . . now . . .
What is he saying?
He’s talking rapidly, talking, moving on top of me, and talking the whole time. But I can’t hear the words. I can’t hear his voice.
And once again, I see the blond boy in his place.
Once again, I see the blond boy moving on top of me, not Clay. The adorable blond boy, so light and fair, like a fine, pale deer.
Not Clay. No, not heavy, bearish Clay.
The blond boy is here again, and Clay disappears. And I’m sliding, sliding, sliding into a kind of dreamworld. Only I don’t slide all the way because I know what I’m doing. . . .
I know the blond boy isn’t making love to me.
I know the blond boy is a ghost.
But I don’t care. I want him there. After all these years, I still want him.
After all these years.
And now Clay is finished. I hear him groan and see him lifting himself off me.
Why do I let him take advantage of me? My underpants still knotted around one ankle. I don’t want to be here.
I let him . . . I let him . . .
He slides beside me. Presses his hot mouth against my cheek.
I take a deep breath. I don’t know if I can breathe in here. “Clay . . . this is the last time,” I whisper.
His lips are against my ear. “You can’t get away from me, Ellie.”
“No, Clay. Listen—”
“You fucking can’t get away. I won’t let you.”
But I’m already gone.
Did I say the words? Or did I just think them?